LONDON – When the three-day eventing riders at the first formal test event of the 2012 OIympics approach obstacle number five Tuesday, they will be dealing with a problem akin to the one for which the Royal Observatory to their left was built in 1676.
Keeping their bearings.
Straight ahead is the iconic view of the London Summer Games, a panorama stretching across and along the Thames from the city’s new financial center, Canary Wharf, to the historic heart of the city.
Over the jump lies a hill dropping off steeply for a few hundred yards. That could leave any horse and rider distracted by the breathtaking big picture as much at sea as mariners were until the creation of the observatory in Greenwich led to solutions for the longitude problem.
"I’ll be looking where I need to be looking," insisted rider Will Faudree of Southern Pines, N.C., after completing the dressage portion of the event. "I’ll come back to look at the view later."
As London nears its year-to-go point before the Olympics, which begin on July 27, 2012, the view from Greenwich on a sunny day with a cloud-dappled sky straight from a Constable painting could hardly have been more appealing.
"It’s novel for our sport to be right in the middle of a big city," New Zealand rider Clarke Johnstone said.
But the view of Greenwich Royal Park in its equestrian trappings offends those who don’t think a World Heritage Site should be used as an Olympic venue site.
Some who worry about the long-range impact on the site, especially because the cross-country course for eventing covers 3.5 miles, came out to protest Monday. They want the events moved.
"It’s a privilege and an honor to compete here," said Faudree, an alternate on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. "The site has history. The sport of eventing has a long history in the Olympics. Together, they will create more history."
The eventing discipline – dressage, cross-country, show jumping – celebrates its 100th Olympic anniversary in the nearly 600-year-old park.
And a worldwide television audience may see more of the sport than ever before, even if the cameras are transfixed more by the view than the competition.
"Hopefully," Johnstone said, "my horse won’t be looking at it."